Independent candidate for the Benbecula and North Uist by-election, Andrew Walker, sets out some of his views ahead of the vote on 26th March 2015:
Andrew firmly believes that the role of the three community councils operating in Ward 2 – Benbecula, North Uist and Berneray – is critically important as our communities move forward to address new challenges in terms of Comhairle budget cuts – up to £12m over the next three years, £8.7m in 2015-16 alone. The newly formed Association of Community Councils helps promote dialogue and feed back from our most remote and fragile “on the edge” communities:
“Everyone’s voice must be heard … unintended consequences, as resulted last year from cuts in scheduled air flights from Benbecula to Stornoway to three days a week, can prove to be so disruptive to service users, especially patients, and alternative provision by use of air ambulance, prove much more costly.”
Andrew has been a community councillor since retiring from a 40-year career as a social worker in 2011, and is secretary of Benbecula Community Council. He also attends all meetings of the association.
Andrew believes that: “…listening to all constituents’ views is an important function for all councillors, more so as the Comhairle embarks on another round of cuts, with some very difficult choices to confront. If elected, I will endeavour to attend all meetings of the three community councils in this ward to promote understanding and awareness of any proposed cuts to services and their likely impact. I will look forward to engage and to participate fully and responsibly in this process.”
There are 7 councillors to represent Wards 1 and 2. The Comhairle is composed of a total of 31 councillors. The arithmetic is clear. A strong and united voice is required to properly represent the interests of the Uists, Benbecula and Barra (Southern Isles) areas. Only one of the present six councillors in Wards 1 and 2 is affiliated to a national political party. I know all six councillors well, and I communicate regularly with them as a community councillor.
Andrew is standing as an independent candidate as:
“I believe that local decisions should not be dictated to by any national party-political agenda. Issues should be decided upon on the basis of the unique and special needs of our island communities: the recent furore over policy on island ferries is a prime example of this danger. The SNP view is important, as they are in government, and hold the purse strings, but it should not dominate.”
Andrew is optimistic about what can be achieved by the ‘Our Islands, Our Future’ initiative. Common problems shared by all three island authorities.
Andrew is concerned that this local by-election may be high-jacked by national politics as we approach a general election on the 7th May. He says: “This must not be allowed to happen.”
Andrew comments about the dangers of centralisation of power and decision-making:
“Local issues require local solutions, wherever possible. Issues raised recently are about road gritting, waste disposal and recycling, litter, road traffic signage and speeding, play areas maintenance and tidiness/safety, dog fouling, bus shelters, public transport, social and recreational events, rental of Comhairle property, and such like…”
Health and Social Care
Andrew was at the forefront of the successful campaign opposed to the privatisation of the GP practices’ dispensing pharmacy proposals for change in Benbecula and North Uist.
The latest campaign Andrew is leading is about the reduction in bed numbers at Ospadal Uibhist agus Bharraigh, by 44% without so much as any consultation proceeding with any of the local stakeholders. When Andrew asked the NHS Western Isles board about this they seemed content to reply that “the local MP and MSP were informed at the time (1st Dec 2014) of this decision”. Not good enough.
The proposal to move three dental practices to the hospital should not proceed to consultation/implementation until the bed situation is resolved. Andrew took this campaign firstly to Benbecula Community Council and then to the Association of Community Councils, both bodies supporting Andrew and issuing press releases, along with UNISON. Questions are now being asked in the parliament at Holyrood and a response is awaited.
Andrew will continue to monitor and campaign on this issue in his role as community councillor. If elected to the Comhairle, all 31 councillors will be engaged at different levels in the newly constituted Integrated Health and Social Care structures, bringing together both NHS and Comhairle services, with a common ‘joined-up’ strategic direction of travel being decided upon. Andrew says:
“These are exciting times, and my background as a social work practitioner and manager equips me to participate in this significant change for our island communities. It is important that vital front-line services are protected, and that any change is not used as an excuse to create more middle and senior management posts. On the contrary, savings at these levels should be factored into any budgetary process.”
Andrew is a member and secretary of Tagsa Uibhist Doigheag Respite Care Home Board of Management and also Tagsa Uibhist Community Services Board (community transport, mental health outreach and horticultural project). Andrew wishes to champion the needs of the Third Sector providers who continue to play an increasingly important role in complementing statutory sector services, more so now as cuts in services begin to bite.
For example, Andrew asks:
“Why is it costing £15.55 for fortnightly delivery of frozen meals to the vulnerable housebound? When I started in social work I was impressed by the role played by the WRVS “Meals-on-Wheels” service. Surely such a model of voluntary service could be considered here? We have a population of about 6000 retired people, many still fit and active, and able to assist as volunteers.”
Andrew Walker – 16th March 2015